Officials with the Maharashtra discomMaharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd (MSEDCL), better known as MahaVitaransaid feeder separation has improved electricity supply in the state. The state had taken up this programme way back in 2007, and almost the entire agriculture-dominated areas of the state are now covered under the scheme, barring some villages in two districts.
About 25% of the total demand for power in the state is for agriculture.
There are 41,095 villages in Maharashtra. Of these, 33,401 villages are agriculture-dominated. Before feeder separation, we used to schedule around nine hours of power supply to villages, but due to the nature of infrastructure, domestic households used to suffer when power to the farms was switched off, said an official of the state-owned discom.
To manage rural demand during peak hours, MSEDCL launched the Gaothan Feeder Separation Scheme and a single-phasing scheme . The idea was to shift the focus to load management from load-shedding.
In feeder separation, a separate parallel line to the specific consumers is laid out. This requires higher capital expenditure and right of way permissions to lay the line over privately-owned landholdings.
Single phasing is done through changeover switches at substation. The scheme envisages supplying single phase rural lighting load through three single phase transformers. During the normal operation, the agricultural load continues to be supplied from the three-phase transformers. On operation of the changeover switch, there will be no supply to the three-phase load on the 11kV distribution network, whereas single phase supply is available to the lighting and fan load.
MSEDCL initiated the single-phase system in 2005 and the feeder separation in 2007. It took two years to complete the former in 5,482 villages and five years for the latter in 17,919 villages.
There are 200300 villages left in Shrirampur in the Ahmednagar districts. We are currently setting up feeder separation there. It should get done in two-three months, the MSEDCL official said.
The company spent R3,782 crore to make the necessary changes to the power infrastructureof which R929 crore was spent on single-phasing and R2,853 crore on feeder separation. The state government contributed R500 crore for single-phasing and picked up 20% expenses of the feeder separation phase.
Feeder separation has helped to improve the supply hours to rural households in Maharashtra, Ashwini Chitnis, senior research associate with the Pune-based NGO Prayas, said. However, there is a need for more detailed reporting and monitoring of load management, which is not happening now. There is also a strong need for open discussions with farmers to understand their needs and how the present scheme can be improved so that it is more sensitive to their issues as well.
A World Bank report in October 2013 also said state utilities are under-utilising the potential benefits of using the data from the segregated feeders to better target subsidies by estimating agriculture consumption accurately.
The World Bank study, conducted at the request of the Indian government, also said automated metering of agricultural consumers is essential to obtain consumer-specific consumption information.
The study analysed the cases of Gujarat and Rajasthanthe states with the longest experience in rural feeder segregationand said increase in electricity supply, from feeder segregation, has led to several socio-economic benefits, including creation of jobs and improvement in the quality of life of the people in rural India.
The report says that a standard rural load segregation approach for all states may not work as states differ in terms of their objectives, geographical conditions, power infrastructure, consumer mix, rural development models, etc. For example, for Haryana, loss reduction was the primary objective for feeder segregation, in Rajasthan the objective was to strengthen the power supply infrastructure for farmers, and in Gujarat it was to provide 24 hours of supply to rural non-agriculture consumers.
Officials from discoms of other states are now approaching us to study our model and replicate it in their states, the MSEDCL official said, adding that there are no plans to convert the single-phasing to feeder separation in the state.